God I thank you for the gifts of today.
I’m not really sure I want to write this blog post. For one thing, I know that it will be raw. My filter of polite conversation has been gradually eroding over the past week, as the weight of what I’ve been trying to do has seeped at my strength. Therefore I ask you take this reflection at face value. I’m not writing for an audience, or as part of a plan, but because I don’t think I’d be ok if I went without putting these stories somewhere.
I didn’t want to go to the Eucharist this morning. I reset my alarm three times during the waking up process, stalling for time and wishing that I could be the type of person who could miss things. I’d already decided last night that I’d leave the tally counter home for the day, this late at convention it’s persistent glare felt more destructive than a tool. Still, I knew that leaving it behind didn’t mean things would go away. As such, even though communal prayer, and the mass in particular is a central (if not THE central) part of my spiritual life, I dawdled.
Entering the service I was wound tighter than a spring. I kept waiting for the moment the destructive gender binary would rear its ugly head. I had quickly flipped through the program, and finding nothing obvious resigned myself to the uncertain fear of “sometime” when I would yet again be told that I’m an outsider. The sermon shook me out of my reverie, though I was certainly a reluctant traveler. As she talked of going out and bringing the lost sheep home, I found myself frustrated that “home” is so often a place of destruction. I did nod in agreement as she described how most of the sheep don’t wander off, but are actively pushed from the fold. As her sermon progressed I found myself drawn in by her hope, and reassured that even when describing her experiences with women no reference to the gender binary was included.
As we transitioned to the prayers of the people, I’d begun to open up again. A piece of me began to hope that today would be the day I wouldn’t be wounded again. Sitting there I’d realized that while I’ve attended every worship opportunity I could, there had been only one* that didn’t stir up a sense of disconnect, frustration, pain and distance in the assumptions of the service. As such this hope was refreshing, a longing was rising to belong and I dared to believe it could be possible. Then at the blessing “My brothers and sisters”…I crumpled. For a daring moment I wished I had the courage to shout “AND OTHERS”, but the moment quickly passed. My fears of the security at General Convention are still on too raw for me to risk making a scene. In that moment my frustration spilled over. “UYou were SO CLOSE”, I thought, but in issues of justice close doesn’t really quite cut it.
During check-in I felt exhausted, though this time it was mostly spiritual rather than total. I wondered how many times can I say that I’m tired? How often can I repeat the same phrasing is still painful before I just become an annoyance? Even now, as I’m typing this up I figure people reading it have got to be tired of hearing this same thing over and over. God knows, I’m sick of saying it and of trying to find new ways to say the same thing.
I gained a new wave of energy from another member of our delegation, who told me what a difference my witness was having on her. I don’t want to go into too much detail, lest I fail to give her powerful words justice, but there is one piece I think people should know about and pay attention to. I bring this up because I’ve heard it before, and I loathe the sense that it makes. She told me that the church needs me, but I don’t need the church. That is to say I do not need to stay present in a church that persistently exposes me to pain and question because of my difference.
I decided to table that question, of where do I set the boundary between the witness of my presence and my growing awareness that this constant ministry of contradictory existence is eating away at me, until later. I figure it’s better to delve into that when I can go into at least a partial exile, shielded from gendered language, misgendering, and unsafe restrooms so that I might have the energy to look at it from a holistic place.
Holding that question I went to pass out Issues for TransEpiscopal during lunch. I had the spot outside the exhibit hall, which was fairly slow. Then I saw someone coming toward us, who tried to start a conversation. Security followed behind him, along with a “public safety officer” from the Episcopal Church. As the man told us he had only come in to ask for directions, and was being targeted for his race the security officer offered the justification that he was the fifth person who’d been escorted from the premises this week and all the others were white. The public safety officer said that he’d been caught asking people for money and that was why he’d been asked to leave. We heard the explanation that everyone in the convention center needed to have a badge. (For the record, if I had to buy it on my own, a single days visitor pass would cost me over 1/3 of my monthly stipend). In the midst of their dialogue, as I stood uncertainly, I heard the man say something profound. “God wouldn’t act like this”. In that moment I knew he was right. Apparently the church paid lots of money to rent the entire convention center, so we could mark it as a “gun free zone” (despite armed security being present). And because we had/paid this “large amount of money” it was within the power of the Episcopal Church to decide who is allowed within that space.
As I watched the man leave I couldn’t help but be struck by the dissonance between what we claim to be gathered here for and the strict limits on who is allowed to speak and how. I feel caught between a church that taught me to long for justice, and an institution that enforces the privilege of its wealth and power. There was a hashtag earlier this week #JesusAtGC, with a bunch of pictures of paper Jesus at various booths and events. While I’m looking back over my day I can’t shake the feeling that Jesus did come to GC, in the form of a man who needed our recognition, our ears, and our hearts to remind him that badge or not, believer or not, he is a beloved child of God. Jesus came, and we responded by kicking him out, with vague claims of “we do this to everyone” to justify the ejection of someone who had so much to teach us about what it means to live and serve “the least of these”, that is to say those whom our God has promised will be the greatest.
I don’t know what I should do with all of this. I feel like I can’t even look at things straight for the number of mirrors and turns that have been thrown into my path. Raw, uncomfortable emotions have taken root within me, and I long to be free of them. I feel guilty, guilty that twice today I let fear keep me from speaking up in places where harm was being caused. I feel weak, because I don’t have the strength to keep hearing this. I feel fragile, and hate waiting for the “next” thing instead of being able to trust in the gifts of the present.
To be clear, this week has been such a gift in so many ways. I know that my testimony has made an impact on several resolutions I cared deeply about. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, forging real-time connections with those who introduced me to online ministry. I’ve had the chance to see and participate in so many wonderful things. Yet, as I’m looking forward to returning home I feel hollow. A quick check-in with myself tells me that I will be months recovering from the dissonance I’ve been enveloped by here. As my gift with words begins to run dry I find myself asking myself “was this all worth it?” I really hope, that after I’m rested I’ll be able to say yes, yes it was totally worth it. Right now though? The question of costs and value is running way to close for comfort.
*One as of this morning. The one to which I am referring is the TransEpiscopal Eucharist from Sunday night. The Acts 8 Moment & Union of Black Episcopalians gathering this evening also managed to avoid the gender binary, which brings the total up to 2 out of 10 services, neither of the 2 where official to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. To say that another way in any worship at convention I’ve encountered discrimination 80% of the time, 100% of the time during our formally scheduled worship. I really wish I didn’t feel like I had to justify how wrong this is, and to struggle to remind myself that it’s ok to be upset by this.